The first overall pick of the draft is most debated question of the NFL off-season and will be the most scrutinized decision come Thursday night. The Carolina Panthers have an important, albeit not envious, choice to make that will certainly affect the franchise’s future. Most people think the overall No. 1 pick is the best position to be in because you have the opportunity to pick the best player in the draft. But when there isn’t a unanimous vote for who should be the No. 1 overall pick, things get a little more complicated.

Everything seemed to be figured out until quarterback Andrew Luck decided to return to Stanford for his junior season and skip the 2011 NFL draft. Luck was projected to be the best quarterback, and player, in the draft and would’ve almost certainly been selected as the No. 1 overall pick. Now, there are a number of prospects that the Panthers could select including players on both sides of the ball. It’s a tough decision for the Panthers to make considering the amount of holes they need to fill in order to become competitive again. Now let’s take a lot at the Panthers’ options at No. 1 and try and figure out which direction they should go.

Cam Newton – Auburn QB

Newton is the most popular pick right now based on his performance last season, which included a national championship and a Heisman Trophy. But as well all know, sometimes success in college football doesn’t translate to the NFL. Newton definitely has the physical stature and skill to be a very good NFL quarterback, but some question his ability to grasp a pro-style offense. I don’t think he will succeed at the pro level based on what I’ve seen out of him in college. He may be a good quarterback, but I think he’ll be anything but great.

A lot of the success he had in college was because he was able to tuck the ball and run when he was in trouble. This worked in college, but won’t work in the NFL. Defensive players at the pro level are far too big and fast for that. Newton does have a good arm, but I don’t think he’s accurate enough or a good enough decision-maker to succeed in the NFL. The only decision he had to make when the pocket collapsed on him in college was which direction to run and who to run over in the process. He’ll have to figure out another way to get out of trouble when he gets to the NFL. Simply put, I would pass on Newton if I were the Panthers.

A.J. Green – Georgia WR

I don’t see how the Panthers could go wrong if they selected Green at No. 1. It all depends on if they decide they want to go forward with Jimmy Clausen as their quarterback. The acquisition of Green would do two things – give Clausen a huge target to throw to and give the Panthers a chance to see how Clausen develops with an elite receiver at his disposal. If Clausen can’t succeed with Green, I don’t think he has what it takes to be the starting quarterback in the NFL. Green is the best overall receiver in the draft and at 6-foot-4, 211 pounds, he has the stature to dominate in the red zone. He runs great routes and has exceptional speed (4.48 40-yard dash at the combine) as well. I don’t know if the Panthers will go after Green, but if nothing else he will definitely fill one of their many holes.

Marcell Dareus – Alabama DT

Dareus is the most versatile and skilled defensive lineman in the draft and would help the Panthers out tremendously. He can play any position on the defensive line and after playing for a Nick Saban defense at Alabama, he understands how to play in various schemes. The 6-foot-3, 319-pound Dareus also has the mental toughness and motivation to be an elite defensive player in the NFL. Despite the great amount of skill Dareus possesses, he considers his passion for the game as his biggest asset. He is extremely humble and isn’t one of these typical “all-about me” college football players.
After he won MVP honors after Alabama defeated Texas in the 2010 national championship game, he celebrated the win with his family in their hotel room instead of partying like a regular college kid who just won a national championship would, which tells us a lot about his character.

Blaine Gabbert – Missouri QB

The second most touted quarterback in this year’s draft behind Newton is Gabbert. There is a good possibility he will be a top-five pick considering most, if not all, of the teams (Panthers, Broncos, Bills, Bengals and Cardinals) need a quarterback. And there is even an outside chance the Panthers take him No. 1 overall. I don’t see this being a reality, but if the Panthers did end up selecting him, they would be getting one hell of a quarterback. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he has the ideal attributes pro teams love to see. He is mobile, but not too mobile. For example, he has the ability to get out of trouble and take off when he has too, but it won’t be his first option if the play breaks down. He’s smart on his legs, meaning he’s not going to go head first into a linebacker as opposed to sliding. Gabbert also doesn’t have any character flaws, unlike some of the other quarterbacks in the draft.

But after all the dust has settled and the Panthers are finally ready to make their pick, I think they’ll go with Dareus. To me, he is the guy who presents the least amount of speculation along with the highest reward. Dareus will fill one of the Panthers’ biggest voids and will make an immediate impact. Who knows who the Panthers will go with come Thursday night, but Dareus seems like the best bet at this point.

Submitted by Steve Giles